Saving civilian lives must be a priority

21 Mar 2021

Saving civilian lives must be a priority

KABUL – Protecting civilian life from the conflict and, ultimately, ending the war must be priorities for groups and communities in Afghanistan, said participants in a UN-backed radio campaign across the country.

In a series of radio and television discussions on civilians’ plight in Afghanistan’s decades-long conflict, participants said the increase in attacks on public places frequented by civilians is a reality and a ceasefire is the most direct way to protect civilians from harm.

Joining the discussion through social media, Abdullah Saqib, from Shirzad district in Nangarhar, urged parties to the conflict to be “compassionate with their people, and not use residential areas and public places for attacks.”

During a radio discussion in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern province of Nangahar, a panelist and human rights activist Sabrina Hamidi said, “International law says that civilians must be protected during armed conflict.” She stressed that the onus was on warring parties to meet their obligations.

While recognising the responsibilities of parties to the conflict, some communities are proactive in protecting their civilians’ rights. According to Fareshta Yaqubi, civil society and women rights activist from Herat, “In Herat's Zawul district, a security post was set up within a hospital, often attacked by Taliban fighters. Following local protests, the civil society activists called on local elders and religious leaders to appeal to security forces to remove the post to prevent attacks on the hospital. The intervention by the elders and religious figures was successful.”

In its recently published 2020 Protection of Civilians Report, UNAMA documented a total of 8,820 civilian casualties - 3,035 killed and 5,785 injured – in 2020. For a seventh consecutive year, UNAMA documented more than 3,000 civilians killed in a single year, many of them women and children. More women were killed in the conflict in 2020 than any year since UNAMA began systematic documentation in 2009.

In making their recommendations, panelists echoed the UN report in calling for a ceasefire and adherence to international and humanitarian laws on the protection of civilians. They also reiterated the calls for a peaceful settlement to end decades of war.

Afghanistan remains among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian, as the conflict rages on undermining access to education, health, and a range of other human rights and essential services. Tens of thousands of families have been forced to flee their homes and are internally displaced while thousands more continue to leave the country.

UNAMA field offices in Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Kunduz and Mazar-e Sharif organised the events as part of a countrywide outreach programme to create platforms – using radio, television and social media – where Afghans can engage in dialogue and discuss critical issues affecting their communities.